The hows of housing The hows of housing The hows of housing

Two UW alumni lead separate projects to address problems of homelessness and isolation.

Story by Caitlin Klask | Lead photo by Anil Kapahi | December 2022

This feature contains two stories of alumni with different approaches to housing problems.  See Ken Lombard’s story below.

Imagine waking up on a Saturday morning and coffee is already brewing. You enjoy a breakfast of organic food you helped grow. Your neighbor is driving to town, so you give them a list of groceries to pick up for you. Yard work takes no time at all with help from the couple two doors down. And when evening comes, you bring a bottle of wine to the common house and enjoy a live poetry reading.

It’s not a utopian vision—that’s just a regular weekend in a cohousing community. Cohousing provides private homes clustered around a shared space. Neighbors know each other like family and share meals, tools and skills. As Grace Kim, ’06, describes it, cohousing is “an antidote to isolation.”

“It’s kind of like the grown-up version of living in the dorms,” says Kim, who serves on the Professional Advisory Board for the Cohousing Association of the U.S. and started her own cohousing community on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in 2010. “It’s all the benefit of having friends outside your doorstep but having the privacy of your own home.”

Kim is the architect for Sunnyside Village Cohousing, a neighborhood of connected homes in Marysville spearheaded by a number of UW alumnae. Jennie Lindberg, ’78 (pictured at top), planted the seeds for Sunnyside in 2016 along with her husband, Dean Smith, when they searched for an already existing community and found none in the Everett area. Why not start their own? They developed a plan for 32 stand-alone cottages and a large common house, featuring a dining room with seating for 64, a coffee bar and a remote working space with high-speed internet connection.

In cohousing, the intention is to be cooperative and neighborly and share things, to get to know people so that we can trust each other and make good decisions together.

Jennie Lindberg

“In cohousing, the intention is to be cooperative and neighborly and share things, to get to know people so that we can trust each other and make good decisions together,” says Lindberg, a retired therapist. “Which is counter to what we are taught in our culture today. We’re taught that it’s safer to stay by yourself.”

Although construction won’t begin until 2024, 63% of Sunnyside Village homes have committed buyers. Among those who believe in Lindberg’s vision are Kirstin Andrews, ’11, Karen Lindsay, ’71, and Vicki Rhoades, ’91; all three have purchased a cottage and are now cultivating the Sunnyside community through Zoom meetings and camping trips to the site.

“I intend to get to know my neighbors,” says Lindsay. “I intend to offer support to them, and to request support. I intend to work for the benefit of the community and support group decisions even if I didn’t vote for them.”

The group didn’t know each other before joining the community, but they thank the UW for setting them on the path to cohousing. “I learned [at the UW] that part of what gives us more meaning in life is having something meaningful to do for other people,” says Lindberg, who studied at the UW School of Social Work. The foundational tenets at Sunnyside are tolerance and respect, she explains.

“I love the idea of living in a community that is completely committed to democratic principles and ensuring that every member has a voice,” says Andrews, a proofreader, who looks forward to raising her newborn child at Sunnyside. “I’m also very attracted to the idea of sharing resources in order to live more sustainably.”

Sunnyside Village’s builder is Green Canopy NODE, a local carbon-cutting construction company. And while it’s typical for cohousing communities to grow food from scratch, Sunnyside makes it a priority. The village layout features an orchard, a greenhouse and a large vegetable garden, along with space for 17 egg-laying chickens.

Pre-pandemic, Lindberg was hard-pressed to garner a large audience at Sunnyside’s Zoom meetings. The value of interpersonal relationships in cohousing was difficult to demonstrate. Now, she says, folks are eager to make connections. “The pandemic showed me—and I think many people—that it’s important to have a support group,” says Lindberg. “Because part of the meaning and purpose in life is helping other people.”

There’s another pandemic sweeping the nation. Loneliness kills, according to research. One study from Brigham Young University found that it’s a bigger killer in the U.S. than obesity.

More than one-third of adults over the age of 45 feel lonely, and a quarter of those over the age of 60 suffer from social isolation. Loneliness can cause a 50% increased risk of dementia and a 29% increased risk of heart disease, according to the CDC. Among heart-failure patients, social isolation increases the risk of death fourfold. Social isolation can also cause anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. All these factors are compounded for immigrants, LGBTQIA+ people, minorities and victims of elder abuse.

Kim’s prescription is to form interdependence. “Loneliness can be the result of our built environments,” she said in a 2017 TEDTalk. And finding an alternative to the American dream of a private home with a picket fence—an interconnected village north of Seattle with a large common house comes to mind—could help. “If I was a doctor, I would tell you to take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” says Kim. “But as an architect, I’m going to suggest that you take a walk with your neighbor, share a meal together and call me in 20 years.”

Why join a cohousing community?

Members of Sunnyside Village offer practical reasons why joining together means a better way of life.

A less car-centric community. “I would like my kid to be able to go out and play and not be worried about cars,” says Andrews’ husband, Troy. More open spaces and fewer busy roads makes Sunnyside a safer place for kids to play. “It’s nice to think about a community designed in such a thoughtful way, and we get to design it, because it’s ours.”

A built-in support system. Friends and neighbors give them someone to turn to in uncertain times. “I’m a very introverted person, and I really like the idea of a built-in community and a built-in way of forming connections as a way of avoiding isolation,” says Andrews.

A personal chef (kind of). In a cohousing community, some meals are shared, which means you don’t have to cook for yourself as often. And the produce couldn’t be more local; it’s grown just feet from the kitchen.

Free entertainment. Lindberg plans to host open mics and other parties in the common area. “Instead of paying huge amounts of money to go to a ballgame in Seattle,” says Lindberg, “we’ll just walk over to the common house and have a little local concert or talent show, then walk back home.”

Car sharing. No reason to drive a single-occupancy vehicle with gas prices this high; neighbors often provide a ride to nearby Everett or Seattle.

A second career. From the retired professor to the former library bookmobile driver, multigenerational families in cohousing make good use of their retired neighbors’ skills.

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Building affordable housing at Seattle’s major transit hubs is the priority for Ken Lombard and his company, BRIDGE. (Photo courtesy of BRIDGE Housing Corp.)

Imagine looking for a home in Seattle in 2022. Say you have two children but only one income. You can’t afford a mortgage, but apartment prices are so high that you could be paying 50% of your income to rent, leaving you in a precarious situation should you need to shell out extra cash for an emergency. Speaking of emergencies, your car broke down and you’ll need to take public transit while it’s in the shop.

A situation like this could break a typical family. Ken Lombard, ’76, president and CEO of California-based BRIDGE Housing Corp., is embracing a solution championed by Sound Transit: affordable housing at Seattle’s major transit hubs.

“There’s a misperception in terms of how [affordable housing] communities come together, and who the residents are—just normal people who have come up against some challenges in their life that have put them in this position,” says Lombard. “We need to do everything that we can to try to provide them with options that help them get back on their feet.” BRIDGE has invested $3 billion in building nearly 20,000 homes and apartments in California, Oregon and Washington. Another $3.8 billion worth of construction is in development now, including 232 homes at the Northgate Transit Center and more than 550 units at the forthcoming Spring District/120th Street light rail station in Bellevue.

In Northgate, all 232 apartments are reserved for people who make 60% or less of the area median income, or $77,650 for a family of four. In Bellevue, 235 homes will serve a range of incomes between 30% and 80% of the area median income, while the remaining 318 units are market rate.

“I am really proud of what I’ve seen happen on the housing side in Seattle,” says Lombard, who now lives in Los Angeles. “I love every time I get a chance to go back home and have a project that I’m part of.”

Lombard grew up in Seattle’s Madison Valley/Central District neighborhood, where his family ran a dry-cleaning business. “We had a very wide variety of customers that made me understand how to treat everyone the same way, no matter their position in life,” he says. “I’ve tried to keep that commitment and approach going forward as I built my career.”

I feel a tremendous interest in and commitment to affordable housing solutions for people in need.

Ken Lombard

He attended the UW in the mid-1970s and was a forward (and sixth man) on the Huskies’ basketball team, where he learned to be a team player—something he considers one of the most valuable lessons of his career. Basketball connected him later on to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who became his business partner at Johnson Development Corp., now known as Magic Johnson Enterprises. The two would go on to bring movie theaters, Starbucks coffee shops, restaurants and retail centers to minority communities in 65 cities nationwide.

“It was a huge win for those communities. He was the perfect partner from a celebrity perspective,” says Lombard, who recalls the way Johnson would light up an entire room of prospects. “He was the guy who opened up those doors. My responsibility was to execute on the opportunities.”

Lombard’s transition to working in housing came naturally. Before BRIDGE, he’d invested in multifamily housing on the market-rate side, including the Viktoria Apartments in downtown Seattle. Affordable housing offered him the opportunity to continue helping underserved communities.

“I feel a tremendous interest in and commitment to affordable housing solutions for people in need,” he says.

Housing prices in Seattle have risen 84% over the past decade, according to Zillow. And while the market is beginning to cool, Seattle’s median rent of $1,702 keeps the city firmly in the top-10 most expensive in the U.S., according to Rocket Mortgage.

“It’ll take quite some time,” says Adrienne Quinn, distinguished practitioner at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance and former director of community and human services for King County. Quinn serves on the board of directors for BRIDGE. “Housing prices will probably never drop low enough so that somebody who is on social security or disability would be able to afford market-rate housing.”

Quinn cites a new book by colleague Gregg Colburn, an assistant professor of real estate within the UW’s College of Built Environments. “He and his research partner examined all of the jurisdictions that have a fair amount of homelessness to see what factors correlated between high homelessness and other issues: behavioral health, housing costs, poverty, etc.,” says Quinn. There was only one correlation. “The counties that have the highest housing prices have the highest rates of homelessness.

“There’s a myth that most of the people who are experiencing homelessness are addicted to drugs and alcohol or have significant mental health issues. We also have a significant number of people who are working who can’t afford housing. There are families who are living in cars who are not part of the visible homelessness population. The population of people experiencing homelessness is much broader and is not just people with addiction and mental health issues.”

Lombard’s solution persists: Build more affordable housing. According to a 2021 report by the city of Seattle, nearly 46,000 households are spending more than half their incomes on housing. “We need to address it,” says Lombard. “And we need to address it now and in a substantive way so we can contribute to a better quality of life for people across the country.”

In addition to the new properties in Bellevue and Northgate, BRIDGE teamed with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Ballard to build 84 apartment units for families making 60% or below the area median income. Construction begins in 2023. “Partnerships are essential to our success,” says Lombard. “We often align with community-based organizations as well as private companies to deliver a full spectrum of housing opportunities.”

Two other buildings—Tressa in Bitter Lake and Coronado Springs in White Center—already provide a collective 806 units of affordable housing to Seattle residents. “Housing is a basic need, just like food and water are,” says Quinn. “I’d say, under Ken Lombard’s leadership, BRIDGE is undertaking some very innovative partnerships that are going to be able to produce significantly more affordable housing for our community.”

Debunking affordable housing myths

Myth: All unhoused people prefer to live outside. “Media outlets can find the one or two people who are saying they’re living in a tent by personal choice,” says Adrienne Quinn, “but the vast majority of people—and we know this because King County has interviewed them—if offered housing resources, would move in immediately.”

Myth: Homelessness is a byproduct of addiction. Gregg Colburn, professor of real estate at the College of Built Environments, studied the relationship between homelessness and mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, weather, public assistance programs and more. What did he find? It all comes down to the cost and availability of housing.

Myth: Affordable housing hurts property values. After multiple studies across the country, researchers found that—thanks in part to great design—property values have increased in neighborhoods with new affordable housing.